Search engine optimisation has continued to evolve as search engines have refined results and brought in new technologies. The changes we see are often subtle, yet they can have some major impacts as we have seen in recent years.
The past 12 months have been as eventful as we might have expected with the Fred Algorithm update arriving in March to allegedly penalise ad heavy sites using aggressive monetization tactics.
Then a more recent update confirmed in December 2017 named the Maccabees update which appears to have targeted websites that have lots of landing pages targeting [service/activity] + [city] as covered in this article and even celebrity websites where some high profile celebrities have lost rankings for their own names.
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) December 15, 2017
Both algorithm updates were aimed at cleansing the search results of sites that offer a poor user experience although Google never confirms the exact nature of algorithm changes. So what can we predict will happen in SEO in 2018?
- Artificial intelligence influence will grow
- Insecure sites may see rankings hit
- Schema markup will continue to increase in importance
- (Good) Content will continue be king
- More new SERP features likely to be introduced
1. Artificial intelligence influence will grow
While a lot of the focus in SEO tends to be on algorithm changes, the growing influence of AI in search cannot be ignored. Google’s RankBrain is able to actively learn from all the data it has been digesting from people’s search habits with results being shuffled in real time.
Its influence can be expected to grow in 2018 as Google seeks to provide its users with a more relevant search experience which irons out results which can be considered inappropriate for a given query.
It is looking increasingly likely that web pages will need to earn the right to appear prominently in the search results and become part of the good camp. This will mean fulfilling certain expectations of what makes a good web page from keywords and language in content, to user experience and location targeting for local search.
The only way to do SEO effectively in 2018 is to use AI SEO technology to really delve deep into web pages and ensure all the boxes are checked with on-page SEO. The era of major algorithm updates may be coming to an end as more search results will be controlled in real time and be more specific to where users are located.
Update at 2pm EST 12/20: Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that there were some updates aroujnd this time. The statment Google sent was “we released several minor improvements during this timeframe, part of our regular and routine efforts to improve relevancy.”
2. Insecure sites may see rankings hit
Google has already made clear its aim is to provide a fully secure search experience and made the unusual step of actively encouraging sites to switch to https. Having a valid SSL certificate means encryption is in place which protects user information, data is protected during transfer and trust is built with users.
Despite the very big hint from Google that sites should go through the relatively straightforward step of switching to https, there are still plenty of websites without SSL certificates which may soon see a drop in search rankings.
3. Schema markup will continue to increase in importance
Search engines rely on providing the best results for user queries, therefore if you can signpost the subject and description as well as the meaning of of what appears on a page this helps both users and search engines. Schema markup has grown in importance and this is another area of SEO that is underutilized yet highly effective. Expect 2018 to bring increased rewards for providing correctly marked up content.
4. (Good) Content will be king
Web content in the form of blogs and outreach to bring in traffic and links will continue to be an important area of focus. The only change we anticipate in 2018 is the growing need for high quality content.
Google’s search engine is becoming increasingly hostile towards any attempt at manipulation in this area with successive algorithm updates targeting sites that pay little regard to the quality of their output. Guest posting has become a dangerous activity for sites particularly when payments are involved or if content is ad heavy. Here is a useful article on what makes great content for your website.
5. New SERP features likely to be introduced
If anything is in a constant state of flux it is in the actual presentation of search results. The search engines continue to introduce new ways to present information and tweak pages to show more or less of what they did before and we can expect more of this to come.
One example of these changes include the recently introduced travel guides on Google. Here Google is acting as the primary source for information on the Peak District region ahead of official regional sites.
Answer boxes and the Local Pack are other examples of where Google’s content occupies the most prominent positions. These introductions will continue to reduce click through rates even for sites sitting at the top of organic search results in competitive search verticals.
The challenge will be that much greater for smaller sites to appear in the more visible positions on the first page when they are up against competition not only from adverts and much larger brand names but also Google’s own monopoly of the most visible positions in SERPS.